Category Archives: Directed by Frank Miller

The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller)

The Spirit is a disaster. It’s a complete disaster. But sometimes, it’s a wonderful one.

Frank Miller can’t write a movie, he can’t plot a movie–arguably, with the exception of his straight-on shots, he can sort of direct one–but it doesn’t matter. There’s no good reason anyone should have given Miller any kind of budget or creative control over a movie and Lionsgate, being Lionsgate, did and he created this mess.

There are good things about The Spirit. Actors. Two of them. Gabriel Macht and Sarah Paulson. Some of the very supporting supporting cast is all right. The majority of the performances are awful. They’re incompetent, but Miller can’t direct actors and he can’t cast them. He found two of the worst female actors he could and cast them in a movie together–who’s worse, Eva Mendes or Scarlett Johansson. I actually think it has to be Johansson, just because her scenes with Samuel L. Jackson make it look like he’s giving a decent performance (by comparison).

Miller apparently thought Jackson was a good choice for the outlandish villain, but Jackson gives the same performance–big shock–he’s been giving since Pulp Fiction. He does not, however, mention being black, which might be the reason he’s a little bit better than usual. With Johansson around–or Paz Vega or Stana Kelic–it’s impossible for Jackson to really seem all too terrible. There’s so much garbage acting, just the basic ability to deliver ones lines puts Jackson leagues ahead.

Dan Lauria is also terrible. Miller’s choices, however stupid, all make sense except Lauria. He should have chemistry with Paulson. He doesn’t. He should have chemistry with Macht. He doesn’t. Instead, he goes around being awful.

Miller’s style for the film occasionally betrays real storytelling sensibility. Not often, but occasionally; enough to keep the interest level up. But the thrill of The Saint is feeling Miller’s vibe–his idiotic vibe. I think he thinks he did a good job presenting Will Eisner’s character to modern audiences, but what he’s created is this amalgam fans won’t like and new audiences can’t connect with. By updating the original, he’s somehow dated it.

He did the whole green screen thing (like Sin City) and it frequently works. Letting Miller be stupid is at least interesting, whether it’s his composition or the way he utilizes color.

It’s too bad it’s not a particularly original film. It seems like a retread of Batman Forever, but with the Danny Elfman Batman music blaring. There are Pulp Fiction references, Superman references… all sorts of references. And they don’t work because Miller doesn’t understand he isn’t connecting with the audience. He probably even thought the audience was going to care about the characters.

Only Macht and Paulson make real people. Paulson because she can’t help acting well and Macht by accident (his frequent voice overs do him no favors). But their scenes together are fantastic, right from the start.

I suppose the movie moves pretty well too. It’s going to be one of the last vanity projects unproven filmmakers get, so it’s definitely worth looking at just from the historical perspective. Plus, it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on the comic book series by Will Eisner; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Gregory Nussbaum; music by David Newman; produced by Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Gabriel Macht (The Spirit), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref), Sarah Paulson (Ellen), Dan Lauria (Dolan), Paz Vega (Plaster of Paris), Eric Balfour (Mahmoud), Jaime King (Lorelei), Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus) and Louis Lombardi (Phobos).


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Sin City (2005, Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez), the extended version

When Sin City came out in the theater, three people told me to go see it. One of them had an opinion of film I respect, one had an opinion of it I–at the time–had no argument with, and one had an opinion I most definitely did not respect. But I’d read interviews with Robert Rodriguez where he said he intended the films to be viewed as separate stories (much like Pulp Fiction, which is Sin City‘s obvious inspiration–at least in terms of casting). One of the Weinstein Brothers, I believe, convinced Rodriguez the film’s audience were essentially dumb and couldn’t handle the stories separate, so spliced together they went. So I waited for the special edition DVD, which has all three films in their entirety….

Unlike Pulp Fiction, which has three stories and shared characters, Sin City isn’t the same movie from part to part. Rodriguez was never a particularly intelligent filmmaker, something Tarantino always has been. In fact, reading on IMDb that it was Tarantino’s idea for Clive Owen to talk his monologue–truly the best moment in the film–makes a lot of sense now. I thought it was just a moment of the comic book that wasn’t tripe.

I actually have a bunch of notes on Sin City, because some of the acting was so awful I had to make a list. Here’s the list, with some comments.

Elijah Wood. He doesn’t have any lines, but he doesn’t have a bad-ass, or even psycho scare. His casting is a goofy, poor choice. All Sin City proved was that he shouldn’t have made it past child acting, which Ash Wednesday already did.

Rosario Dawson is AWFUL.

So is Rutger Hauer.

So is Jessica Alba (in the cameo during Marv’s story).

Benicio Del Toro was laughingly bad. So was Brittany Murphy, but she was irritating. Watching Del Toro in Sin City is like… try to imagine Robert DeNiro as Robin (as an eleven year-old). It’s embarrassing. The Del Toro/Murphy scene is actually painful. A lot of the acting in Sin City is like it–it’s unbelievable that Rodriguez expects it to be taken seriously and not as a bad imitation of a car commercial.

Alexis Bledel–awful. She might give the worst female performance.

Michael Madsen is astoundingly bad. I always used to–when I was a teenager–confuse him with Tom Sizemore. The difference is not that Sizemore is good (he’s better than good), but that he’s actually capable of acting. Madsen isn’t.

Now, on to the good performances. Anyone turning in a good performance in this film must be amazing. The dialogue is so piss poor, they have to be.

Both Josh Hartnett and Marley Shelton are good in their little intro sequence (Hartnett probably has the easiest time with the narration, because his is the shortest and, therefore, the best).

Mickey Rourke is fantastic, but the makeup is a bad idea. The whole “translation” of the comic book idea is stupid (and certainly testifies to Rodriguez’s inherent limitations). The comic book is not perfect–the writing is occasionally all right, but most of the dialogue and narration is awful. Miller simply isn’t very good, on page or screen. Rourke manages to convey real emotion, even with his face in plastic.

Clive Owen is excellent.

Tommy Flanagan (the guy with the scar) or Nick Stahl give the best performances in the film.

Jaime King is actually all right. Maybe even good.

The Willis narration ruins the sequence, because it doesn’t give him a chance to act. Jessica Alba was nowhere near as bad (just mediocre really) as I was lead to believe, mostly because her character does absolutely nothing. Some of the Willis stuff looks real good, but that narration just kills it. Miller’s narration makes an attempt at Chandler, but it’s a poor one. He misses Chandler’s point. Its characterizations are from a B film noir–a bad one–not Chandler. Not even Hammett. It’s like he’s heard some hackneyed detective narration on a sitcom….

The special effects–the “sets” and “locations”–occasionally work, but they mimic reality, but don’t seem to intend to–so when something is incredibly unreal, it sticks out. Like cars. Amusingly, the visual design (from Miller’s comic) has cops out of Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, with full body armor, driving old cop cars to fit in with the 1950s motif.

I actually didn’t dislike Sin City. It’s certainly the best comic book movie in the last few years (since Hellboy, I suppose, then all the way back to Batman Returns or something). It’s just not very good–it’s like Pulp Fiction, but with a bunch of actors from the WB. There’s rarely any real human emotion to it and there’s a constant attempt to be “cool.” Pulp Fiction had some similar aspirations, but it was also about wanting to screw your boss’s wife, which is a layer Sin City doesn’t have. All of its characters, for the “noirish” dialogue (out of the missing Don Knotts adaptation–sorry, translation–of The Big Sleep), all of them talk straight from id. There’s no nuance. But it’s hard to dislike just because it isn’t a real movie. It’s not a serious attempt at anything. American Pie 2 is a more serious study of the human heart in conflict with itself.

Sin City is a comic book movie and I’m using comic book as a pejorative there….

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller and Robert Rodriguez; special guest director, Quentin Tarantino; screenplay by Frank Miller, based on his comic book; director of photography, Rodriguez; edited by Rodriguez; music by Rodriguez, John Debney and Graeme Revell; produced by Elizabeth Avellán, Rodriguez and Miller; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jessica Alba (Nancy), Devon Aoki (Miho), Alexis Bledel (Becky), Powers Boothe (Senator Roark), Rosario Dawson (Gail), Benicio Del Toro (Jackie Boy), Michael Clarke Duncan (Manute), Carla Gugino (Lucille), Josh Hartnett (The Man), Rutger Hauer (Cardinal Roark), Jaime King (Goldie/Wendy), Michael Madsen (Bob), Brittany Murphy (Shellie), Clive Owen (Dwight), Mickey Rourke (Marv), Nick Stahl (Roark Jr./Yellow Bastard), Bruce Willis (Hartigan) and Elijah Wood (Kevin).